A government minister with “nerves of steel” swam for 12 hours in the Indian Ocean before being rescued after his helicopter crashed off the coast of Madagascar this week.
Serge Gelle, 57, is the island nation’s secretary of state for police was touring the site of an earlier shipwreck when the aircraft went down.
“My turn to die has not yet come, thank God,” Gelle said in a video Madagascar’s Defense Ministry posted to Twitter on Tuesday.
In the clip, the veteran police general is shown resting on a lounge chair in the seaside town of Mahambo, still clad in his camouflage uniform and vowing to return to work. His hands are visibly white and wrinkled from the hours he spent in the water — and he’s still wearing a watch.
“I’m well. I’m just cold,” said Gelle, who was rescued by a fisherman Tuesday morning. The helicopter crashed Monday night.
Police chief Zafisambatra Ravoavy, in an interview with Agence France-Presse, described Gelle as having “nerves of steel.”
“He has always had great stamina in sport, and he’s kept up this rhythm as minister, just like a 30-year-old,” Ravoavy said.
Another passenger, air force mechanic Jimmy Laitsara, also survived the crash and swam to shore, news agencies reported. Rescue workers Wednesday recovered the body of Col. Olivier Andrianambinina, director of security for the prime minister, according to The Associated Press.
There were four people on the helicopter, including the pilot, when it caught a gust of wind and began to plummet toward the ocean, Gelle said.
“Not having a life jacket, I unfastened the seat and used it as a buoy. I stayed calm and took off anything heavy I was carrying like my boots and belt. I did everything to stay alive,” he said.
Gelle, in a separate video taken at a hospital, recounted how he battled the waves as he neared the shore but worried that he was too exhausted to stay afloat.
“I thank heaven that there was a fisherman,” he said.
Gelle was on the helicopter to survey the site of a shipwreck earlier Monday. The small cargo vessel Francia sank while carrying 138 people illegally, Madagascar’s maritime agency said.
On Wednesday, the death toll from that disaster rose to 83, Reuters reported. Fifty survivors were found.